Israel pulls forces from Gaza, truce begins

A spokesman for Hamas says Israel's offensive against Gaza was a '100 percent failure'

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Israel withdrew ground forces from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and started a 72-hour ceasefire with Hamas as a first step toward negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old war, Reuters news agency reported.

However, minutes before the truce began at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT), Hamas launched a salvo of rockets, calling them revenge for Israel's "massacres," the agency said. Israel's anti-missile system shot down one rocket over Jerusalem, Reuters quoted police as saying. Another hit a house in a town near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. There were no casualties.


Infographic: Israel announces ‘total withdrawal’ from Gaza

Infographic: Israel announces ‘total withdrawal’ from Gaza
Infographic: Israel announces ‘total withdrawal’ from Gaza

Israeli armor and infantry left Gaza ahead of the truce, with Reuters quoting a military spokesman as saying that their main goal of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels dug by Islamist militants had been completed. "Mission accomplished," the military tweeted.

Troops and tanks will be "redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip and we will maintain those defensive positions,” spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said, reflecting Israeli readiness to resume fighting if attacked.

Israeli ‘failure’

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Islamist Hamas faction that rules Gaza, said Israel's offensive in the densely populated, coastal enclave was a "100 percent failure.”

Israel sent officials to join talks in Cairo to cement a longer-term deal during the course of the truce. Hamas and Islamic Jihad also dispatched representatives from Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his decision-making security cabinet to discuss the aftermath of the fighting, officials said.

Truce attempts

Several previous truce attempts by Egypt and other regional powers, overseen by the United States and United Nations, failed to calm the worst Israeli-Palestinian fighting in two years.

An Israeli official said that in the hour before the ceasefire came into effect, the civilian airspace over Tel Aviv was closed as a precaution against Gaza rockets, delaying takeoffs and landings at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,867 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket launches.

Hamas said it had informed Egypt "of its acceptance of a 72-hour period of calm", beginning on Tuesday.

(With Reuters)

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